As the first edition of my power rankings, the teams don’t have any prior standing from which to rise or fall. In that regard, it made ordering the 32 teams even more difficult, as a strange 2016 season has yielded few dominant teams and plenty of inconsistent franchises battling for playoff position. With only 3 weeks to go in the regular season, here is a look at the current rankings:
- New England Patriots [11-2]
The Patriots just do what they do. It seems that every time a good team travels into Foxboro for a prime time game, there is a short stretch where they seem to have a slimmer of hope of pulling off the upset. But then Tom Brady decides to thrown a 79-yard TD to Chris Hogan or something along those lines. The only losses for New England this year have been against the Bills while Jacoby Brissett was leading the charge and to a talented Seahawks team that had a healthy Earl Thomas. If the Patriots shore up the #1 seed, the chances that another AFC team reaches the Super Bowl will be slim.
- Kansas City Chiefs [10-3]
It’s time to give the Chiefs the credit they deserve. They don’t have an explosive offense, their defense is barely top ten, and their margin of victory is only 3.6 points per game despite a 10-3 record. But it doesn’t matter. The Chiefs show great composure in the 4th quarter of close games against good competition. Despite a disastrous start to the 3rd quarter vs. Oakland (2 turnovers in the first 2 minutes), the Chiefs shut down Derek Carr on Thursday Night and won 21-13. The more the Chiefs can incorporate Tyreek Hill into their offense, the better the chance they will have from emerging from the AFC in January.
- Dallas Cowboys [11-2]
Tough game for the Cowboys at the Meadowlands, but no need to panic just yet. After his poorest performance of the season and a second loss to the Giants, Dak Prescott is getting hammered by critics and fans are buzzing about the possibility of a Tony Romo return. Hogwash. Against an increasingly fierce Giants defense on the road the Cowboys fell by 3. Ezekiel Elliot still ran for 105 yards and Sean Lee played like a man on a mission. The road to the #1 seed is still wide open for Dallas, but there are two main concerns. 1) Dez Bryant is frequently M.I.A. in this offense; his 1200+ yard, 12+ TD seasons of 2012-2014 seem like a distant memory. 2) Let’s hope the Cowboys don’t host the Giants at JerryWorld in the divisional round, because I don’t think third time will be the charm for Dallas.
- Oakland Raiders [10-3]
Something was wrong with Derek Carr Thursday night. He was indecisive, inaccurate, and frustrated in a 21-13 loss to Kansas City. In a postgame interview, Carr brushed off the idea that his injured pinky played a part in the poor performance, but I don’t buy it. Carr often stared down receivers on crossing routes and opted for short dump offs, even on 3rd and long. It was just a strange game for the Raiders. If Carr can get healthy and Oakland can finish the season strong, they still have a chance at the division title. Edging out Kansas City would ensure a first round bye and give more time for Carr to rest up for the playoffs. But regardless of where the Raiders end up seeded, their deep receiving corps and opportunistic defense led by Khalil Mack gives them a great chance to go deep into the playoffs.
- Seattle Seahawks [8-4-1]
What in the world happened to Seattle at Lambeau? Well, they ran into a red hot Aaron Rodgers without the presence of Earl Thomas as a physical force and a leader. But like the Cowboys’ loss, let’s not overreact just yet. The Seahawks have wins in New England and at home against the Dolphins and Falcons. More importantly, however, is that the Seahawks have an experienced, top 3 defense and a clutch quarterback in Russell Wilson. The Hawks will win the NFC West and if they can catch the Lions they can secure a first round bye. That would give the Seahawks a home game in the divisional round, and Seattle hasn’t loss a home playoff game in the Russell Wilson era.
- Pittsburgh Steelers [8-5]
With a healthy (and not suspended) Le’veon Bell, the Steelers are a scary football team. 236 yards rushing, 62 yards receiving, and 3 TDs? Mother of God what a performance in the snow at Buffalo. Pittsburgh now has wins over the Chiefs, Giants, and Redskins and seems to be hitting their stride after a four game losing streak in the middle of the season. The defense has squeezed its way into the top ten and Antonio Brown continues to play like a stud. With their three remaining games against each of their AFC North opponents, the Steelers control their own destiny to the division title.
- Atlanta Falcons [8-5]
It is hard to figure out this Falcons team, but I am becoming a believer. Their largest defeat of the season was by 9 points, and they were one mistake away from taking down Kansas City. Atlanta has the 8th highest scoring offense of all time at 32.9 ppg and if their defense can at least play average football (they only lost one game when allowing fewer than 26 points) they will be tough to stop, especially at home. Matty Ice is finally living up to his nickname, completing 68% of his passes and maintaining a TD: Int ratio of better than 4:1. Last week’s 42-14 win in L.A. was impressive, but it was the Rams.
- New York Giants [9-4]
Huge win for New York Sunday Night. After last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, it seemed that a slide to end the season was a distinct possibility. But the 10-7 win over Dallas puts the Giants in prime position for a playoff spot and makes them a team that no one wants to face. Still, the complete and utter lack of a running game (30th in the NFL) is worrying. The defense is playing at a championship level even without JPP, but if Eli turns the ball over like he did against the Cowboys, New York won’t be able to outlast a high scoring team like Atlanta on the road.
- Green Bay Packers [7-6]
Aaron Rodgers is a baaaaaad man. People scoffed at the idea of the Packers running the table after they fell to 4-6, but who is laughing now. Ty Montgomery is running with intensity and the talent deficient defense is somehow allowing 12 ppg over the last three weeks. However, the Packers will have to do more than just win out to make the playoffs. They will need either the Giants or ‘Bucs to falter in this final month, and Green Bay may be on the outside looking in despite a strong finish to the season. A 4-6 start may just be too much to overcome.
- Detroit Lions [9-4]
The Lions are channeling their inner Al Davis – they just win baby. A 20-17 win at home against the 3-9 Bears that required another Stafford game winning drive is not very impressive. But it allows them to crack the top 10. I’m not sold on the Lions beating a hot Giants team in the first round or Seattle if they get a first round bye, but 9-4 is 9-4. Like the Giants, however, the lack of a running game is Detroit is problematic, and it remains to be seen how much Stafford’s injured finger affects his play.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers [8-5]
Like the Lions, the Bucs are finding ways to win close games, and the back to back victories over the Seahawks and Chiefs were clutch. Holding the Saints to 11 points and zero Drew Brees TDs is also impressive. Mike Evans is having a monster season with 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns and Jameis Winston has matured into the leader of this young team. Moreover, second year LB Kwon Alexander and this defense is allowing only 13 ppg in their five game winning streak. A strong finish to the season can earn the Bucs a wild card birth and maybe even a division title.
- Denver Broncos [8-5]
The defending champs are a good football team, but they are in a world of trouble. The recent struggles of Devontae Booker and the offensive line are making life hell for Trevor Siemian. Take a look at their upcoming schedule; their final three games are vs. New England, Oakland, and at Kansas City. Finishing the season on a four game losing streak is looking more likely than not and with Miami and Baltimore close on their heels, the defending champions may miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
- Baltimore Ravens [7-6]
Ravens fans may insist that they had a chance to win in Foxboro Monday Night, but hold on a moment. Without a ridiculous muff by Cyrus Jones (cut this man already) and a rare fumble by Matthew Slater, the Ravens probably would have lost by at least 14. Give Flacco credit for a gritty 324 yard performance, but the Ravens looked like a different team than the one that rolled to a 38-6 victory vs. Miami. The Ravens still have a shot at the AFC North title, but it will require a week 16 win at Pittsburgh. Yeah, good luck with that.
- Washington Redskins [7-5-1]
The win a Philadelphia wasn’t pretty, but it was a critical one for a Redskins team in the thick of the playoff race. Kirk Cousins continues to put up big numbers and Robert Kelly is looking more like Marshawn Lynch by the week. Washington will need to top the Giants at home in week 17 to keep their hopes alive, and like the Packers, they will need some help along the way. But with games against the Panthers and Bears upcoming, they’ve got a shot.
- Minnesota Vikings [7-6]
Sam Bradford is having one of the strangest seasons by a QB ever. He is currently on pace (at 71.2%) to break the all time record for single season completion %. But he is bottom 10 in the league in touchdown % and two of his three interceptions this season cost his team wins (vs. the Redskins and Lions). The Vikings defense is for real – allowing more than 20 points in just 3 out of 13 games, but Minnesota’s 5-0 start seems like a distant memory. The Vikings trailed in the fourth quarter to the Jaguars. Jeez.
- Tennessee Titans [7-6]
I believe in the Tennessee Titans. It’s a shame that they lost to the Colts twice and don’t have the tiebreaker because they have a much better chance of winning a first round playoff game. Marcus Mariota laid an egg against Denver, but the defense bailed them out with stellar red zone stops. The week 17 game against the Texans may be the biggest game for Tennessee since their magical 2008 season. Look for the 1-2 punch of Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry to carry them to the AFC South Title.
- Miami Dolphins [8-5]
Losing Ryan Tannehill is a devastating blow for Miami. Fortunately, recent reports have indicated that he may be able to return for the playoffs. Welp, good luck getting there. The Dolphins will probably have to go 2-1 to get in, and there is no way they will beat the Patriots in week 17, even though they have managed to beat the Pats in Miami each of the last three years. Also, the dolphins haven’t won in Buffalo (their week 16 matchup) in the Tannehill era. So…. Maybe the Dolphins should be looking to 2017.
- Carolina Panthers [5-8]
The Panthers have got to be one of the best 5-8 teams in NFL history. Their 8 losses have been to teams with a combined record of 64-39-1 and 5 of those losses have been by 3 or fewer points. The mediocre play of Cam Newton has led to a lot less dabbing for the Panthers this year, but its been the loss of Josh Norman and the regression of the defense that is costing Carolina. The defense is allowing nearly 7 more points per game in 2016 and the team has been unable to finish in close contests.
- Arizona Cardinals [5-7-1]
The Cardinals were unable to hold off a Dolphins team led by Matt Moore in the 4th quarter. Sigh. The cardinals haven’t been able to do much of anything this year besides hand the ball off to David Johnson and throw the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. Unless the team finishes the season with flying colors, 2016 may have been Carson Palmer’s final season for Arizona.
- Houston Texans [7-6]
I have absolutely no faith in this Texans team going forward. I don’t even care about their win over Indianapolis (though it was critical for their playoff hopes) because I don’t think they have any shot of making a run in the playoffs either. Brock Osweiler is having an atrocious season and Pro Football Reference gives the Texans an expected W-L record of 5-8 at this point. The defense has played well enough to keep the Texans afloat, but besides close wins over the chiefs and lions, Houston is playing lackluster football. If they manage to win the AFC South, I expect a repeat performance of last year’s wild card game.
- Indianapolis Colts [6-7]
Another AFC South contender, another mediocre season. The 2 point loss to the Texans was a devastating blow to their playoff hopes, and they will need to win out and get some help to win the division. Andrew Luck has managed to put up some good numbers in 2016, but receivers not named TY Hilton have been inconsistent and Frank Gore will probably finish with his second straight season of fewer than 4.0 Y/A. The Colts D is among the worst in the league in points allowed and turnovers forced; they just aren’t good enough to contend in the top – heavy AFC.
- Buffalo Bills [6-7]
Rex Ryan needs to go. Now. Jeff Fisher style. The Bills are too talented to consistently finish around .500 and they remain the streakiest team in the NFL. One week they fall to the Jets at home and the next they crush the Cardinals. The team has no discipline and Tyrod Taylor looks nothing like his 2015 self. #remaketheBills2017
- Cincinnati Bengals [5-7-1]
An awful start to the season has clouded the fact that the Bengals are playing some pretty good football as of late. They beat up on two bad teams the last two weeks (Eagles and Browns) and their three game losing streak before those wins consisted of one possession losses to the Giants, Ravens, and Bills. Marvin Lewis deserves to be fired, but keep this Bengals team together. There is hope for 2017.
- San Diego Chargers [5-8]
According to Yahoo! Sports, the odds of the first four Chargers losses occurring was 1 in 30 million. But since the rough start to the season, the Chargers haven’t been unlucky, they’ve just been bad. They have one divisional victory and turn the ball over 2.5 times per game. I feel for Phillip Rivers, but he has to cut down on his interceptions if he wants to lead San Diego (or wherever the Chargers will be) to the playoffs in 2017.
- New Orleans Saints [5-8]
Drew Brees is in quite a funk. After throwing for at least 1 TD pass in 61 straight home games, Brees has 0 TDs and 6 INTs in the last 2 weeks. The Saints have now been officially eliminated from playoff contention and another Saints season is winding down in disappointment. The Brandin Cooks situation is even more troubling for the future in New Orleans.
- Philadelphia Eagles [5-8]
As an avid Giants fan, watching the Eagles crumble from a 3-0 start to a 5-8 record gives me great joy. Carson Wentz is a solid rookie quarterback, and his performance against the Redskins on Sunday was admirable. But he’s not ready. He frequently looks off downfield options for checkdowns and his Y/A of just 6.5 is among the worst in the league. With an improved offensive line and some upgraded wide receivers (Desean Jackson anybody?), Wentz could do some damage in 2017.
- Chicago Bears [3-10]
The bears really aren’t that bad. Jordan Howard is a guy that no one wants to tackle and Matt Barkley is indicating that he may not be a bust after all. The Bears have beaten the Vikings and were a possession away from beating the Giants and Lions. Too bad. You’re still 3-10.
- New York Jets [4-9]
What a comeback for the Jets on Sunday. A great second half performance by the defense and Bilal Powell to beat the… oh… 49ers. This is the same team that lost to the Colts at home by 31. Big changes are coming for the Jets, but please don’t fire Todd Bowles. This disaster of a season is not on him.
- Jacksonville Jaguars [2-11]
Man, the Jags just can’t win football games. In their 8 game losing streak, the Jags have led or trailed by just one possession in 6 of those games. Blake Bortles is among the most disappointing players of 2016 and their running game is laughably absent. A Blake Bortles run actually yields more Y/A attempt than a pass. I don’t recall any other time that that has been true for a true pocket passer.
- Los Angeles Rams [4-9]
Thank goodness for the firing of Jeff Fisher. Now Stephen A Smith can take breathe a sigh of relief. In all seriousness, the firing of Fisher came far too late. He gave Jared Goff no opportunity to have a positive start to his career and his starting running back called the offense a “middle school offense”. Enough said.
- San Francisco 49ers [1-12]
Poor Niners. If not for a week 1 win against the Rams, San Francisco would also be staring at the possibility of a winless 2016. Surprisingly, Kaepernick is not playing bad football, throwing for 11 TDs and only 3 INTs as well as scrambling at a brisk 7.6 Y/A. When your defense allows over 30 ppg, however, you are doomed.
- Cleveland Browns [0-13]
Mark my words, the Browns will go 0-16. Like Kaepernick, the play of Cody Kessler has actually been pretty solid this season, but the team just can’t win games. Their average game is a loss by 12.9 ppg, which is the worst since the 2012 Chiefs. At least they won 2 games.